Businesses get killed by non-competitors

Entrepreneurs worry about competition all the time. And they’re correct in doing so. I think the “focus on customers, ignore competition” is a terrible business advice. Customers will never ask you to introduce switching costs, yet that’s precisely what businesses should do in order to be profitable for a non-trivial amount of time.

In my last article, I wrote about how an entrepreneur should go about creating a legal monopoly via network effects and economic moats. In this article, I’ll talk about how even legal monopolies get killed.  ...  Read the entire post →

How to create legal monopolies via network effects and economic moats

If there’s one thing that customers dislike, it’s the barriers in switching between competitive products. As customers, we want to retain our freedom. However, as entrepreneurs, we are incentivized to curtail that freedom. As I wrote earlier, head to head competition in a market pushes profits to zero. To make a profit, an entrepreneur needs to find a way to keep customers and competition away from each other.

There are two ways this separation can happen:

  • Prevent competition from entering into your market
  • Prevent customers from switching to a competitor

Obviously, these tasks are hard in a free market (and that is why market pays through the roof for companies with a sustainable competitive advantage). Unless you sell drugs, you can’t (and shouldn’t) hire an assassin to prevent competition. Nor, can you (and should you) threaten your customers with dire consequences if they switch. ...  Read the entire post →

Bitcoin’s value beyond hype

A product or a service creates value when it solves a human need. When Amazon was founded, it was a lifesaver for book lovers in remote places where they didn’t have good bookstores. People of the world allowed Jeff Bezos to become rich because he made their life simpler. We happily exchange money for services when it enables us to make our lives better. Librarians help others but scientists help themselves. Guess who makes more money?.

Just like Amazon solves a real-world need, so does Bitcoin. (Of course, like Amazon stock, people speculate on Bitcoin’s price as well.) What needs does bitcoin solve for? The answer to that is long-winded. The network effects and feedback loops in bitcoin ecosystem make teasing out the value question really difficult, but I’ll try doing that here. ...  Read the entire post →

Bitcoin is mother of all network effects

Bitcoin is such a strange beast that it’s hard to really understand what it really is. Some people call it the biggest Ponzi scheme ever invented, while others see it as the currency that’ll power a decentralized, libertarian utopia. Whatever it is in reality (and whatever “reality” really means), there is no question that network effects are playing a central role in making it the most hotly debated idea of recent times.

I’m a big fan of the power of network effects and have previously written about different types of network effects. In this post, I want to talk about what network effects are at play in bitcoin. This post assumes you know what bitcoin is and how it works at a high level. In case you don’t, go through my introductory post on basics of bitcoin first...  Read the entire post →

Reading Recap #2: Basics of Ethereum and mental models for blockchain

After my first weekly reading recap on basics of bitcoin and blockchain, I couldn’t post a recap last week as I was away attending my weekly class of Stanford’s Seed program in India for growth stage entrepreneurs.

My favorite part of the week was the design thinking class where various teams (of 4-5 people) had to interview people, discover a problem, brainstorm, prototype and test potential solutions — all within one day. The team I was part of went to autorickshaw stands and had detailed conversations with drivers about their lives, hopes, regrets, likes and dislikes. My biggest learning (and shock) was about their idle time: auto drivers don’t do anything for 90%-95% of their workday and so are unable to meet their ends meet (earning only Rs 200-600/USD 4-10 per day). We discovered lots of economic inefficiencies that are waiting to be fixed by an entrepreneur. I recommend you see my entire Twitter thread with detailed data and observations. ...  Read the entire post →

Cryptocurrencies are belief systems

Making fun of hundreds of new cryptocurrencies launching every month is understandable. People are confused by all diversity of cryptocurrencies (bitcoin, litecoin, ethereum, ripple, etc.) because historically there was never a competition among currencies. All we’ve ever known or used in our lives is just one currency: the one the government issues. Imagine telling someone who had grown up reading the New York Times in the early 1990s that in less than two decades there will be hundreds and thousands of publications covering the city. He would have laughed at you. Today, the same person would be consuming news on Twitter or discovering new restaurants on Yelp, and catching up on celeb-gossip on Instagram. ...  Read the entire post →

Staying relevant in a changing world

Many designers I know started their design practice by first practicing on Photoshop. Almost all marketers I know entered the field by reading articles on content marketing, Adwords, or Facebook Ads (SEO is long gone). Engineers in my day started learning web programming with PHP (apparently these days it’s Javascript / NodeJS).

Most self-made professionals get attracted to the methods and tools because they get immediate results. Want to do content marketing? Sign up on Medium, write an article and spread it. Want to write your first app? Use Bootstrap in the frontend and Mongo/NodeJS on the backend, and you’re up and ready in a couple of hours. Tools enable immediate gratification and that’s what makes them so attractive. ...  Read the entire post →

Why you shouldn’t set prices based on value created

I was talking to a friend who has subscribed to an online publication called The Ken. This subscription costs him around Rs. 2000 per year and he gets access to hundreds of exclusive in-depth, well-researched articles on Indian startups. I asked him if he’ll renew, and he said probably not as he didn’t think that he got worth his money from the 15-20 articles that he had read. This conversation was happening at a bar where the average bill per person comes to be about Rs. 1500. I pointed this to him and we wondered why he was willing to pay Rs 1500 for a 3-hour sitdown at a bar but doesn’t find it worth Rs 2000 to read 15-20 well research articles.  ...  Read the entire post →

What food delivery companies can learn from Netflix

It’s in the news today. Ola, India’s largest on-demand taxi service, has acquired FoodPanda India (from its parent company Delivery Hero) in a stock-swap transaction. FoodPanda is in food delivery business (like GrubHub in US or Delivery Hero in Europe).

Ola’s Founder and CEO said the usual acquisition-related things in a press release.

I’m excited about our partnership with Delivery Hero as we team up to take Foodpanda India to the next level. As one of India’s pioneers in the food delivery space, Foodpanda has come to be a very efficient and profit focused business over the last couple of years. Our commitment to invest $200mn in Foodpanda India will help the business be focused on growth by creating value for customers and partners. With Delivery Hero’s global leadership and Ola’s platform capabilities with unique local insights, this partnership is born out of strength.  ...  Read the entire post →

Revenue requires investment, profit requires creativity

The purpose of a business is to generate over its lifetime a higher return for its shareholders than what they would have gotten by investing in risk-free options (such as government bonds). This is a slightly technical definition but an example will illustrate what I mean.

Imagine there is an entrepreneur with a business proposal and he requires a $100 of investment for it. He reaches out to you and pitches his idea to seek your investment. To make a decision, you’ll probably analyze and estimate how much return you’d get in return of money you give to him. If you usually get 6% interest annually in a savings bank account, you would expect a higher return from the entrepreneur (given there’s a risk of losing your entire $100 while your money in the bank is virtually risk-free). In fact, you’d expect an unjustifiedly high rate of return because like all humans you’re risk averse and hence demand more upside than what seems fair. Absurdly high expectations is what makes entrepreneurship so hard.  ...  Read the entire post →